Good nutrition and diet are promoted by the NHS, as the consequences of not following a healthy, balanced diet can be serious. Guidelines provided by the NHS on maintaining a healthy diet include eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, not eating too much processed food and not consuming alcohol in excess. Common effects of poor nutrition include tooth decay, which affects over half of UK adults, high blood pressure – affecting around a third of UK adults – and obesity, which affects around a quarter of UK adults.
What are the effects of poor nutrition which can be reversed or partially alleviated by improved diet?
- Poor tooth and gum health
- Difficulty sleeping
- Type 2 diabetes (usually caused specifically by overconsumption of fatty or sugary foods)
- Anxiety and depression
- Weakened bones and osteoporosis (caused by vitamin D deficiency)
- Coronary heart disease
- Difficulty healing from cuts or wounds or difficulty fighting infection
Poor nutrition (malnutrition) can encompass both overnutrition – resulting in someone being overweight or obese – and undernutrition, which causes someone to be underweight.
Undernutrition can be caused by eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or could be the consequence of a digestive condition such as Crohn’s disease which impacts the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in the food a person is eating.
These types of conditions are more complex and cannot simply be improved with better education and diet.
How is good nutrition and diet achieved?
A GP can help someone advise someone on how to achieve a better diet and nutritional balance. Some people may also be referred to a dietitian who can give specialist advice on what to eat, adapted to the person’s nutritional situation.
Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, do not consume enough fibre or fruit and vegetables, and consume too many foods high in sugar and fat, as well as too much alcohol, which should be limited to 14 units a week for men and women.
The NHS Eatwell Guide can give details of how much of the different food groups someone should be eating each day, as well as how to balance eating throughout the day. For most people, this involves snacking less and when snacking, avoiding processed foods.
Vitamin supplements may be prescribed for someone who is deficient in calcium or vitamin D and whose bones are at risk of osteoporosis. Most vitamin deficiencies can be treated with an improved diet, however.
If someone is overweight – which can be calculated using a BMI calculator and waist measurements – they may be advised to follow a weight loss diet plan, which involves eating less than the energy they expend daily to achieve a calorie deficit.
Someone who is underweight may be advised to consume high-calorie fortified foods or drinks, as well as snacking between meals.
There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made to ensure good nutrition and diet among the workforce:
Employers do not have a legal duty to improve employees’ nutrition and diet. However, an employer may choose to help employees in certain ways, or by making certain adjustments to allow them to attend appointments relating to improving their nutrition and diet, as it is in the employer’s interest to have a healthier workforce.
Studies have also shown that people with poor nutrition disproportionately fall into less affluent demographic categories such as those with lower income and that as a result, employers must be careful not to discriminate against them, as stipulated in the Equality Act 2010.
What nutrition-related reasonable adjustments are possible for employees?
Some reasonable adjustments to facilitate good nutrition and diet in the workplace might include:
- Flexible working hours to accommodate an employee’s medical appointments if they are seeking help to improve their nutrition, or are receiving treatment for a nutrition-related condition like diabetes.
- Adjustments to duties depending on the extent of the impact of a nutrition-related condition on the employee. Type 2 diabetes may affect an employee’s feet, preventing them from spending long periods standing or walking around, for example.
- Subsidising treatments or information sessions, particularly if a significant number of employees would benefit from better nutrition and diet advice
- Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the importance of good nutrition and diet and the risk factors – such as stress – which can lead to poor nutritional habits such as overconsumption of high-sugar and fatty foods.
- Improving workplace culture such as limits on bringing in sugary cakes and biscuits to share round, which can lead to weight gain among the workforce as a whole. This could include healthy eating initiatives and improved lunch offerings in the work canteen and in office vending machines, etc.
Good nutrition and diet Signposting
British Nutrition Foundation – organisation aiming to give everyone easy access to sustainable, healthy diets and implementing the latest research in the field of nutritional science in communication campaigns and resources for the general public and health professionals (020 7557 7930).
The Food Foundation – charity focusing on reforming policy and business practice to ensure access for everyone in the UK to a healthy and balanced diet, in particular during the current Covid-19 pandemic which has impacted many people’s food security (020 3086 9953).
Food for the Brain – charity raising awareness among individuals and organisations of the importance of good nutrition for mental health and brain function and encouraging the integration of nutrition advice and support into treatment for mental health conditions (020 3978 5336),